Ahead of Israeli Elections |

Ehud Barak Announces Retirement From Political Life

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Jonathan Lis
Haaretz

Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he is withdrawing his candidacy from the upcoming Knesset election and will retire from political life after serving out his term in office. At a surprise morning press conference, Barak said: "I will step down from my position as defense minister once a new government is assembled in three months."

When asked whether he would serve as the next defense minister as a non-elected official, he said the question was "irrelevant."

Barak, 70, said he was resigning to spend more time with his family. "There are many ways to contribute to the state, politics isn't the only one," he said.

"My decision to retire stems from my desire to devote that time to my family, and also because I have never felt that politics was the height of my ambition," he said. "I believe that it is important to make way for fresh faces - a turnover in positions of power is a good thing.

"I made the decision not without qualms, but ultimately with my heart at peace," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he respected Barak's decision, thanking the defense minister for their cooperative working relationship and adding that he "very much appreciates his long-term contribution to the country's security."

Tzipi Livni expressed regret over Barak's retirement. "Barak contributed to the state as a soldier, commander, minister and prime minister, and the citizens of Israel owe him a lot. Despite the differences we have had, I always respected his genuine concern for the future of Israel and I wish him, from the bottom of my heart, success in the new chapter of his life," Livni said.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich also expressed her regret over Barak's retirement, saying "the world's most decorated soldier, and one of the most highly regarded security officials worldwide, has done more for the IDF and for the state's security than the public will ever know."

By contrast, Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein said" "Today is Likud's independence day. Barak will go down in the history of Israel's governments as the worst defense minster the Jewish settlements have ever had."

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Ehud Barak with Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 2009.Credit: Dan Keinan
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Ehud Barak, center, as a young IDF soldierCredit: IDF Spokesman
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Has Ehud Barak, who slogged through peace talks in 1999, warned the prime minister that a celebratory launch to negotiations, and setting a target date of one year, is not enough?Credit: AP

Popularity waned

Barak's popularity with voters has waned, with polls showing his Atzmaut party failing even to gain one Knesset seat in the January 22 elections. However, following a recent spike in popularity following Operation Pillar of Defense, more recent polls show the former defense minister gaining four Knesset seats.

The outgoing Knesset session was one of the stormiest in Barak's political life. The former prime minister, who headed the Labor Party in previous elections, steered it into the rocks in 2009, gaining just 13 seats, making it the Knesset's fourth largest party, after Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

That meager achievement sparked an unending row within Labor ranks. While many MKs demanded to stay in the opposition, Barak was negotiating the possibility of joining a cabinet headed by Netanyahu. In January 2011, almost two years after the cabinet was formed, and after he realized that he had lost the support of most of his party, Barak broke away from Labor, forming a new faction, Atzmaut, with four other MKs - Matan Vilnai, Orit Noked, Einat Wilf, Shalom Simhon and, upon Vilnai's appointment as Israel's envoy to China, Shachiv Shnaan - and joined Netanyahu's coalition.

After serving as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff between 1991 and 1995, Barak retired from the military and entered politics, becoming interior minister in Yitzhak Rabin's government and foreign minister in Shimon Peres'.

In 1999, he was voted prime minister in Israel's second and last direct election of the head of state. His tumultuous tenure, which included the IDF's withdrawal from south Lebanon, advanced peace negotiations with Syria, the Camp David peace talks with Yasser Arafat and onset of the second intifada, ended prematurely in 2001 with the election of Ariel Sharon, prompting Barak's exit from political life.

He returned to politics in 2005, serving as defense minister under Ehud Olmert Olmert and now under Netanyahu.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak waving to reporters after a press conference in Tel Aviv during which he announced his resignation, Nov. 23, 2012.Credit: AP
Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Credit: Moti Milrod

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